In Singapore, a clutch of home-grown gin distilleries has emerged in the past few years, in shake-and-strain tandem with the island’s maturing craft cocktail scene. Among these purveyors of spirits is a relatively young cohort of distillers proffering artisanal gin, some with an unquestionably local twist and others made with regional ingredients.
But have these new libations raised the bar for mixologists and punters alike, or are they concoctions of mere gimmick? We put nine varieties of gin from five local distilleries to the taste test, to help you separate the ‘bottoms up-worthy’ from the ‘surreptitiously hide under the coffee table and hope nobody notices’ spirits this festive season.
The jury: A professional bartender, a barista and two media professionals
The method to the madness: While we certainly aren’t intoxicated with the hubris to claim to be an ‘expert nosing panel’, we went ahead to rate the gin on a scale of one to five according to nose, palate and how festive it made us feel – because what’s a party without a dash of frivolity? The former two criteria relate to intensity of aromas – how layered they were – and the roundness of flavours respectively. The gin was tasted both neat as well as mixed with tonic water, with whiffs of coffee beans between flights to cleanse the palate – and stave off utter inebriation.
01 | The Orientalist Spirits
Founded by F&B proprietor Michael Lu – who, according to their website, was on the judging panel of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurant awards – in the wake of a Tibetan sojourn, The Orientalist Spirits seeks to craft high quality spirits from premium ingredients from Asia.
Gunpowder Gin – Produced using a blend of traditional and low temperature vacuum distillation methods and techniques, this gin was distilled from 23 different botanicals: Gunpowder tea, Kampot peppercorn, Siberian ginseng, Korean Omija berries, dried tangerine peel, Osmanthus flower, angelica, coriander, orris root and Macedonian juniper berries – just to name a few.
True to its description, the Gunpowder Gin was wonderfully herbaceous and floral, with botanical notes that shone without smarting the eyes. Nonetheless, the gin connoisseur of the group expressed that he would have liked the intensity of aromas to be heightened.
We were unanimously relieved at how the Gunpowder Gin’s tasteful Art Deco-style label did not belie its flavours, which were delicately floral. This one had a long, smooth finish with a slightly sweet aftertaste. Definitely a crowd-pleaser that would appeal to non-gin drinkers as well.
Festive flair: 3.5/5
Though lacking the intrigue of flavoured gin, this mixed well with tonic for a refreshing cocktail with citrus notes. Its clean profile lends well to a creatively-crafted cocktail with all the bells and whistles. It appears that we’re off to a good start.
02 | Compendium Spirits
Started by the folks behind Rachelle The Rabbit Meadery, Compendium Spirits released its flagship products inspired by Malaysian & Singaporean hawker cultures, in 2019. They are known for their distinctly flavoured gins.
Rojak gin: Rojak Gin is first distilled from fermented artisanal honey, then infused with juniper berries, lemon peel and torch ginger (ginger flower).
This was our least favourite gin, aroma-wise. It had a sharp, synthetic smell that masked the existing botanicals.
There was a sweet, sticky quality to the gin, which caused a burning sensation in our throats. We would not recommend for this to be consumed neat.
Festive flair: 4/5
While the Rojak gin did not pass muster sans the accoutrements of mixology, we were pleasantly surprised at how much its flavours opened up after we had mixed it with tonic. Its unusual tropical flavours – yes, now we’re definitely tasting the pineapple in rojak – made it highly quaffable. Friends, this is one stiff drink, so just let it fuel your gregariousness.
Chendol gin: Fermented from gula melaka (palm sugar) and infused with juniper berries, pandan leaves and coconut, the Chendol gin is a recreation of its namesake local dessert.
Like the Rojak gin, this variant’s botanicals are overpowered by an artificial smell that’s all too cloying – no points earned for subtlety.
Our panel was divided on this: while a faction was adamant that the chendol gin’s flavour veered too far from that of traditional gin, they weren’t exactly anathema to its mild gula melaka aftertaste, which recalls molasses and the flavours of childhood.
Festive flair: 5/5
Stirred with tonic, the chendol gin is bathed in a whole new dimension that, according to our trusty bartender, “is rare, even for a gin.” Its potency was well-concealed by its subtle sweetness – making for a dangerously appealing tipple.
03 | Tanglin Gin
Singapore’s oldest gin maker, which recently opened a new distillery at lush Dempsey, has earned a sizeable following for its spirits marrying a blend of Asian botanicals – along with its cachet. Its Orchid gin has bagged numerous international awards, including the silver medal at the 2021 International Wine and Spirit Competition.
Orchid gin: Singapore’s first ever gin’s herbaceous flavour notes come from the classic gin botanicals with the addition of Vanilla Planifolia Orchid and an unexpected spice: Amchoor.
This had a citrusy, fruit-forward nose that none of us were averse to, though it could do with slightly more nuance.
“This is exactly what you expect gin to taste like,” proclaimed our resident gin aficionado, who has a penchant for botanical-infused iterations. While the provenance of its ‘orchid’ name is unclear, the gin’s light citrus flavours were certainly a treat.
Festive flair: 3.5/5
We liked how accessible this drink was, with or without a mixer, though this came across as more of an everyday drink rather than a festive conversation starter.
Black Powder gin: To distil this award-winning gin that’s preceded by its impressive 58 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume) content, Tanglin Gin tinkered with Orchid Gin’s original recipe by bruising half the junipers and adding whole fresh lemons.
Similar to the Orchid gin, this spirit was bursting with the zesty scent of tropical fruits. It earned an extra point on the score cards due to its more distinctive notes that, much to our delight, included that of pineapple.
Citrusy, refreshing and perfectly balanced. The citrusy notes of the Black Powder gin do not overpower its botanical base, and the drink glided down our throats like honey. This one made us sit up.
Festive flair: 5/5
Admittedly, not all of us are fans of gin, but this baby won the crowd over. Surprisingly versatile – its bold flavour profile held up to the various garnishes we played around with – it was one of the more fun tipples of the night. It looks like we’ve got a winner here.
04 | Singapore Distillery
One of the newer players in the game, Singapore Distillery was established by Ashwin Sekaran after a trip to the UK with his father. What followed was a period of intensive research into the art of gin distilling, which has culminated in a mind-boggling array of gins, created in an onion-head still. This, Sekaran told us, helps to coax out more complex flavours from the botanicals.
Lime Garden gin: Lime Garden Gin is made distinctive with the addition of three South East Asian limes – limau purut, with an intense citrus fragrance stemming from it’s citronella oil; limau nipis that has a bold herbal-floral aroma and a stronger flavour, and limau kasturi, a small, sweet, green lime with a bright orange interior.
Bright, punchy, yet with a lingering floral aroma that filters through at the end of a whiff – what’s not to like?
We were seriously impressed by how the lime lifts the flavour of the gin, giving it added depth and piquancy, while tempering the slightly medicinal notes of the botanicals. Savour it neat on a cool, breezy day by the beach.
Festive flair: 5/5
With such a bouquet-rich, multi-faceted character, the Lime Garden is the gift that keeps giving. And certainly we’d like to wrap it up in a pretty package and send it to only the friends we really like.
Singapore Sling gin: Created as an homage to the eponymous local cocktail/tourist trap – depending on your proclivities – this gin was distilled with oranges, cherries, Angelica (used to make herbal liquer used in the cocktail), pineapple and limes.
Though we expected this to evoke a balmy “holiday in the sun”, we were slightly put off by its saccharine sweet, artificial smell – akin to a headache after you’ve had one too many Mai Tais.
Don’t let its ingredient list intimidate you. While the Singapore Sling gin may be reminiscent of a can of fruit cocktail, this gin’s natural-tasting pineapple notes did not overpower its bold botanicals. It was warming, rather than searing, with a long, rounded finish.
Festive flair: 4/5
The flavours of the gin opened up after mixing with a special tonic water developed by the company. You may want to exercise prudence when using this in a cocktail, though, as its flavours can clearly hold their own.
05 | Brass Lion Distillery
Brass Lion’s german copper still is a sight to behold, and a tour of the distillery is similarly eye-opening, with a gin school for aspiring gin makers, a retail shop and a tasting room where customers can sip on cocktails. Undergirding the venture, led by Jamie Koh, is a passion for creating gin that reflects Singapore’s cultural fabric, using Asian botanicals.
Holiday Spice gin: This is the latest holiday spice iteration of the Pahit Pink gin, which contains house-made bitters, together with the Singapore Dry Gin. Comes in an adorable Boozy Hot Chocolate kit complete with a gingerbread cookie.
It’s difficult to resist fizzy ginger beer, which is what this festive spirit smells like, rather than gin.
Pleasantly warming with spiced notes over a strong botanical base, the Holiday Spice gin isn’t overtly offensive, though we found it a little too sharp to be consumed neat.
Festive flair: 4/5
The gingerbread notes in this tipple scream, ‘Santa is ready to party!’ Though we can’t imagine imbibing more than a glass of this – mixed or otherwise. More of a festive gift rather than a party libation.